OTTAWA – A controversial government program which tried to get failed refugee claimants out of the country faster by essentially paying them to leave won’t be renewed after a scathing internal evaluation.
The assisted voluntary return and reintegration pilot program, or AVRR, was supposed to save time and money by getting low-risk failed claimants to leave on their own instead of having border agents enforce deportation orders.
But an evaluation by Canada Border Services Agency found that’s not what happened.
“The need for the AVRR as currently designed is questionable in that removals take longer and cost more compared to other low-risk removals since the refugee reform came into effect,” the evaluation found.
The controversial program was part of the Conservative government’s overhaul of the refugee system, launched in a bid to crack down on people making unfounded refugee claims and tying up government resources.
Critics said the changes were made without considering the implications, a point echoed by the government’s own evaluation of the return project.
“Like many aspects of the refugee reform, the pilot program was designed based on a set of assumptions that could not be validated prior to launch, some of which proved not to be accurate,” the evaluation said.
Among them: the idea that giving people money to help them resettle in their home countries would convince them to stop trying to appeal negative decisions.
“Since the assistance received decreases with each additional appeal made, it was expected that more failed refugee claimants would choose to leave instead of filing an appeal,” the evaluation report said.
“The assistance paid so far shows this was not the case as more participants made two appeals in 2013-2014 than in 2012-2013.”
Those making claims from so-called safe countries, known as DCOs, were offered $500 and those from elsewhere were eligible for up to $2,000.
That didn’t work as planned either.
“The Immigration and Refugee Board databases did not initially include a marker to indicate which failed refugee claimants were from a DCO,” the report said.
As a result,142 pilot program participants received about $234,000 they weren’t actually entitled to.
About a third of the people in the program eventually withdrew. That, along with the fact the government wasn’t able to recoup the cost of airfare as planned, increased the operating costs.
Those who did leave, however, stayed away and the evaluation also found the program was most successful when people registered on their own, rather than after being contacted by border officials.
A copy of the report was posted online by the government this week.
The pilot program started in Toronto in 2012 with a $31.9 million budget and was to run until this March of this year.
“Since the comprehensive reforms to Canada’s asylum system took effect, the number of new asylum claims has decreased to historic lows, suggesting that the reforms are successfully deterring unfounded claims,” Wendy Atkin, a spokesperson for the CBSA, said in an e-mail.
“The CBSA is committed to finding new ways of delivering its removals program in a cost-effective manner while optimizing enforcement outcomes.”